England win double

England's captain Alastair Cook plays a reverse shot

England’s captain Alastair Cook plays a reverse shot

England have claimed the Men’s and Women’s Twenty20 game against Australia at Cardiff last night.

The Men’s team won by five runs despite Steve Smith’s 90 runs from 53 balls. Chasing 183, Australia slipped to 2-12 before a 112-run stand between Smith and Glen Maxwell (44). Australia lost 6/51 in six overs to fall short. David Willey took 2/34  from four overs.

Earlier, England posted 5/182 from 20 overs, with Eoin Morgan (72) and Moeen Ali (72*) compiling 135 for the third wicket. Patrick Cummins (2/25 from four overs) was Australia’s best bowler.

While they lost the Ashes, the England Women’s team had a consolation T20 series win. Chasing 112, England reached 5/114 with 11 balls to spare. Natalie Sciver scored 47 while Rene Farrell took 2/14 from four overs. Sciver helped England recover from 3/22 after 3.4 overs while Anya Shrubsole took 4/11 in Australia’s innings.

Australia’s innings was populated by unfulfilled starts, with Alexandra Blackwell (24) and Grace Harris (24) the only batters to pass 20 runs.

While the Women’s Ashes has finished, the Men begin a five-match ODI series starting Thursday.

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The Hayne Plane

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Jarryd Hayne’s incredible start to his NFL career has inspired everyday Australians – including the PM.

Mr. Abbott will soon fly to San Francisco to congratulate Hayne on his performances so far. Abbott will take his private jet which he’s humorously renamed “The Hayne Plane” for this special trip.

‘Hayne is a true inspiration to all Australians. He’s proof that if you have natural sporting talent and plenty of money, you can leave your successful sporting career and achieve the American Dream.’

Abbott says he’s been a keen follower of the NFL. ‘I find it very exciting when the players score goals after a tense rally and they kiss the outside edge of the bat then win the scrum feed. I love watching the SuperCup every year.’

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has surprisingly encouraged Abbott’s junket. ‘The longer that bastard’s out of the country the better.’

Unfortunately for Abbott, his trip hit a hurdle  when a quick check of Wikipedia revealed Hayne was of Fijian descent and have played for Fiji in the 2008 World Cup.

‘What kind of person claims to be a dinky-di Australian when their parents were born overseas? It’s deceitful,’ said the London-born Abbott. ‘I’ll have to send Bronny instead, she’s been itching to use her Haynecopter.’

Women’s Ashes retained

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The  Southern Stars have regained some Aussie pride, retaining the Women’s Ashes.

The Women’s Ashes comprises a stand-alone Test, three ODs and three T20 matches.

The Southern Stars won the Test by 161 runs and the ODI series 2-1. Leading 3-1 after four matches, the Stars needed just one win in the three T20 matches. After losing the opening game at Chelmsford by seven wickets, the Stars secured the Ashes at Hove.

Batting first, Australia made 7/107 from 20 overs. Rene Farrell took 3/17 as England were dismissed for 87 in 19.1 overs. England were in trouble at 3/10 after 2.3 overs and never recovered.

In a boon for the Women’s game, the final T20 at Cardiff will be televised on GEM. Ironically, the Women’s series ends where the Men’s started – at Sophia Gardens.

The Southern Stars have gradually become more popular, with T20 internationals telecast on Nine, leading to the first WBBL this summer – running in conjunction with BBL05.

The  Southern Stars have regained some Aussie pride, retaining the Women’s Ashes.

The Women’s Ashes comprises a stand-alone Test, three ODs and three T20 matches.

The Southern Stars won the Test by 161 runs and the ODI series 2-1. Leading 3-1 after four matches, the Stars needed just one win in the three T20 matches. After losing the opening game at Chelmsford by seven wickets, the Stars secured the Ashes at Hove.

Batting first, Australia made 7/107 from 20 overs. Rene Farrell took 3/17 as England were dismissed for 87 in 19.1 overs. England were in trouble at 3/10 after 2.3 overs and never recovered.

In a boon for the Women’s game, the final T20 at Cardiff will be televised on GEM. Ironically, the Women’s series ends where the Men’s started – at Sophia Gardens.

The Southern Stars have gradually become more popular, with T20 internationals telecast on Nine, leading to the first WBBL this summer – running in conjunction with BBL05.

The year of the Bronco?

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When Wayne Bennett returned to the Brisbane Broncos this year, fans rejoiced. If anyone could give them a premiership, it was Supercoach Benny.

For all their star power and popularity, the Broncos haven’t won the NRL premiership since 2006.

After last night’s thrashing of Souths, Brisbane regained the lead with the Sydney Roosters and North Queensland at their heels.The Broncos should finish top two, which means two home finals and the garden path to the first Sunday in October.

While the Broncos have only missed the finals twice since 1992 (2010 and 2013), they have fallen short in September.

So can the Broncos finally win it this year? The big win against Souths suggest they might. They’ve managed the post-Origin slump with a 4-3 record leading into last night’s game. The Roosters and Cowboys are their biggest threats. While they had a close loss to the Roosters last week, they beat them by four at home in round six and they  comfortably beat the Cowboys in round three.

The Broncos’ defence has been outstanding. They have conceded 364 points (an average of 15 points a game), the second best behind the Roosters (290 at 13). Their points differential is a healthy +202, just behind the Roosters again at +225. Brisbane’s halves combination of Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford are leading them around beautifully and they have relatively few injuries. They have the advantage of a finals-like game against Melbourne next week before a home final at Lang Park against North Queensland, Souths, Cronulla, Melbourne or even Canterbury. Brisbane would be confident of beating those teams and advancing to a home preliminary final.

Momentum is crucial in late August. After a tough seven weeks, the win against Souths indicated that Bennett has them in finals mode. This could be the year of the Bronco.

The One With 60 All Out

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Another Ashes series has finished. On paper, England’s 3-2 win looks a lot closer than it was.

It was a bizarre series; every game was decided inside five days  with big margins. England won their three Tests by 169 runs, eight wickets (chasing 124) and an innings and 78 runs. Australia won by 405 runs and and an innings and 46 runs (fun fact: the last ten Ashes Tests have ended in a result).

While result-driven Test matches are important, the drama and twist and turns of Test cricket were absent. There was very little arm wrestle.

Let’s look at the games further:

CARDIFF = England’s comfortable win was built on a strong first-innings. Joe Root foreshadowed his epic summer with 130 (crucially dropped by Brad Haddin early). Chris Rogers’ 95 got Australia within 122 runs before Root (60) and Ian Bell (60) hit half-centuries to set Australia 412 with two days left. Australia only lasted 70 overs, with Mitchell Johnson (77) and David Warner (52) providing some resistance.

LORD’S = Australia struck back at their favourite venue, minus Shane Watson (dropped after twin LBWs at Cardiff and replaced by Mitch Marsh) and Brad Haddin (given compassionate leave for his daughter Mia). This gave Peter Nevill a chance and he made the most of it. Captain-in-waiting Steve Smith crunched 215 – and Rogers 173 – as Australia declared at 8/566. Johnson, who terrorised the Poms in 2013/14, took six wickets and England were dismissed for 312 and 103. Curiously, Australia declined to make England follow-on, perhaps fearing a VVS Laxman-style fightback. Some scars take a while to heal.

EDGBASTON = In 2005, the Edgbaston Test turned the series, with England rebounding from a Lord’s thrashing to win by two runs. The 2015 version was all but over after day one, with England 3/133 chasing Australia’s 136. The English pace attack of James Anderson (6/47),  Steve Finn (2/38) and Stuart Broad (2/44) took just 36.4 overs to dismiss Australia. For the Aussies, it was an unsettling prelude for Trent Bridge. England pushed their advantage to 145 runs, with half-centuries to Root (63), Moeen Ali (59) and Ian Bell (53). By stumps on day two, England had reduced Australia to 7/168 (David Warner 77). Peter Nevill (59) and Mitchell Starc (58) showed admirable fight on the third morning, setting England 121. Bell (65*) and Root (38*) shared an unbroken 73-run third wicket stand to see England home.

TRENT BRIDGE = if this Test was a Friends episode, it would be titled “The One With 60 All Out”. Australia’s horrendous first innings lasted less than a full Twenty20 innings. Broad wasn’t complaining, with a career best 8/15. England had secured the Ashes by stumps, reaching 4/274, with another big Root hundred (130). Australia showed more fight in the second innings, Warner and Rogers compiling 113 for the first wicket, including a bronx cheer when they passed 60. Australia got the Colliwobbles again, losing 7/128 by stumps. Cricket took a back seat on the third morning with Michael Clarke in deep discussions with selector Rod Marsh. Would Clarke call it quits today? Adam Voges (51*) saved his Test spot as England won easily but all eyes were on Clarke’s “exclusive” interview with Shane Warne at play’s end. As we all know, Clarke announced the Oval Test would be his last. While the fallout turned into a petty “he said/she said” schoolyard fight, with Warney taking a potshot at his favourite coach John Buchanan, at least Clarke could have a proper farewell Tests.

THE OVAL = Dead rubbers is usually a pointless term.There was plenty to play for at the Oval; Australia had Clarke and Rogers’ farewell and a chance to rebuild for the upcoming Bangladesh series. England, of course, had the Ashes to look forward to. This may explain Australia’s massive win. Like Lord’s, runs from Steve Smith (143) propelled Australia to a big first innings (481), with Voges’ 76 keeping his late-blooming career alive. While Mitchell Johnson (3/21) and Mitch Marsh (3/30) took the bowling honours. Peter Siddle’s 2/32 from 13 overs raised a lot of questions. Mainly, where the hell was he for the first four Tests? Siddle had been the Merv Hughes-esque workhourse for the Aussies, the man who would bowl himself into the ground if he had to. When his pace finally dropped, he was discarded. He was good enough to earn an Ashes recall, but seemed destined to be a reserve. With no Ryan Harris, Siddle was needed for his control and reliability. Siddle may not be fast, but he can hit a length and nag better than Marge Simpson. Warne was critical of Siddle’s recall, saying he should have played earlier and giving him a token Test was pointless when younger bowlers like Pat Cummins could be used. Siddle continued his second life with 4/35 (from 24.4 overs) in the second innings. From being a Test outcast, Siddle has pushed hard for a spot on the Bangladesh tour.

So what can we make of the series? Ignore the 3-2 margin, it’s far too flattering for Australia and doesn’t do England’s dominance justice. They played badly at Lords but had Australia covered at Cardiff, Edgbaston and Trent Bridge. England had a settled lineup, with Anderson the only major casualty.  Crucially, England showed they could win without The Walking Ego (Kevin Pietersen). Australia relied on too few. Clarke – to his credit- admitted that his poor form was hurting Australia. No hiding behind cliches for Pup. Smith, Rogers,  Lyon, Warner and Starc were among Australia’s best. With Fawad Ahmed struggling in the tour matches, Lyon will be Australia’s frontline spinner for as long as he wants. There is some conjecture about playing Johnson AND Starc in the same team, but Starc has surely done enough to stay in the team. Rogers will be missed. He was one of the few batsmen to dig his heels in against England’s pace attack.

So what now? Australia will surely rebuild, with two Tests at Bangladesh and a home summer against New Zealand and the West Indies. The captaincy is in safe hands with Smith; he led well against India last summer and his form won’t be an issue, at least for now. England have away trips to Pakistan and South Africa to combat any post-Ashes hangover.

The next Ashes series is Australia 2017/18. Let the countdown begin…

The Bush Bashers

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With the Big Bash entering its fifth season later this year, Cricket NSW have announced a regional Big Bash.

Sixteen teams across two zones (the Thunder Zone and the Sixers Zone) from country NSW and ACT will play a knockout tournament later this year.

THUNDER ZONE: ACT Aces, Border Bullets, Central West Wranglers, Murrumbidgee Rangers, Orana Outlaws, South Coast Crew, Southern Riverina Vipers, Wagga Wagga Sloggers.

SIXERS ZONE: Central Coast Rush, Central Coast Chargers, Hunter Hitmen, Illawarra Flames, Macquarie Coast Stingers, Newcastle Blasters, Northern Inland Bolters, Northern Rivers Rock.

The knockout games will start on October 11 and finish November 1.

Sunday December 6 will be Finals Gala Day at the SCG, with the remaining four teams from the Thunder and Sixers zones playing off.

NSW legends Doug Walters (Sixers Zone) and Len Pascoe (Thunders Zone) are tournament ambassadors, helping with coaching, regional promotion and development of T20 and bush cricket.

The tournament is sponsored by Transport NSW as the Plan B Regional Bash.

This is a brilliant chance to spread the game to the bush. The inclusion of the ACT is vital considering Canberra’s growing stature (with Manuka Oval hosting the 2015 Big Bash Final, World Cup games and One Day Internationals). Twenty20 is the perfect format for expansion, so hopefully the Plan B Regional Bash is a huge success.

Mr Cricket returns

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Mike Hussey will captain the PM’s XI against New Zealand in Canberra in October.

Played at Manuka Oval on Friday October 23, the game will launch the 2014/15 summer.

Hussey retired from Test cricket in 2013 but has been playing in the Big Bash for Sydney Thunder.

A pink ball will be used for the first time, with the PMs XI  wearing their blue and yellow uniform (the ACT’s official colours).

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, launched the game at Manuka Oval’s Bradman Room. The fixture was established in 1951, when Robert Menzies was PM. It will be Abbott’s third time “hosting” the match, with England winning comfortably in 2014 and 2015.

The match is significant step for ACT Cricket. They hosted the Big Bash final last year and three World Cup matches. The PM’s XI match will be followed by an ODI against India on January 20, 2016. Former Test wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and current spinner Nathan Lyon both represented the Comets, who currently play in the Futures League.

NRC is back

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The National Rugby Championship is back for a second season.

Defending premiers Brisbane City will host runners-up Perth Spirit at Ballymore on Thursday night, the North Harbour Rays will play Sydney Stars, Greater Sydney Rams will play NSW Country Eagles (Saturday August 22) and QLD Country plays Melbourne Rising (Sunday August 23). The Canberra Vikings will play their first game against NSW Country in round two.

There are a couple of interesting innovations for the second season.

Teams will compete for the Horan-Little Shield (named after Wallabies Tim Horan and Jason Little). The 2014 minor premiers Melbourne – holders of the Horan-Little Shield – are required to put it up for challenge at every home game and choose to accept challenges at away games. If Melbourne wins two consecutive home “challenge” the H-L Shield is up for challenge at every Rising match, regardless of venue.

An Australian Barbarians team – comprising of NRC players not contracted to Super Rugby teams – will fact the New Zealand Heartland XV in a two-match series in  November. It’s a brilliant opportunity for the next generation.

FOX Sports will broadcast all 39 NRC games, comprising nine four-game rounds, two semis and the Grand Final. The Thursday night matches will be broadcast live, with the other games streamed live on the FOX Soorts website.

While the NRC (a reboot of the failed Australian Rugby Championship) doesn’t have the profile of the NRL, AFL or even the Big Bash League, it does offer a vital stepping stone between club rugby and international rugby.

It’s Miller Time

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World Cricket has lost its characters; players are trained to drain every last interview cliche, workloads are carefully monitored.and nearly everything is micro-managed to ensure the players “brand” is nice and shiny and nothing goes wrong.

Before that was Colin “Funky” Miller.

While the Footscray-born medium pacer-cum-off spinner only played 18 Tests, he left a colourful impression.

Miller made his first class debut for Victoria at 22, but had to wait 12 years (with stints at South Australia and Tasmania) before breaking into Test cricket. Miller mixed medium pace with his off breaks (adopting spin after an ankle injury). Miller’s action was simple: a few steps with the characteristic flick of his right arm, a gather to transfer the ball into his bowling hand, jump into the textbook side-on position with a high front arm. With his medium pace background, Miller was a quick spinner, relying on bounce and accuracy more than old-fashioned guile. It worked.

Miller made his debut at Pakistan in 1998 (finding Wasim Akram’s edge to help Ian Healy pass Rod Marsh’s record 355 dismissals) and was a good foil for Stuart MacGill in the 1998/99 Ashes series while Shane Warne recovered from injury, but his big moment came the following summer against the West Indies.

The once proud Windies were in decline, with Courtney Walsh and Brian Lara still fighting on. It was the last traditional five-Test Frank Worrell Trophy.Just as well, as Australia won 5-0. With no Warne, Miller (20 wickets in three Tests) and MacGill (16 wickets in four Tests) feasted on the hapless tourists. Miller took 10 wickets at Adelaide (5/81 and 5/32) as Australia brushed aside Lara’s first innings 182 to win by five wickets. Miller’s eccentricity was revealed in the SCG “Federation” Test, where he dyed his hair blue for the second day, which had Walsh in fits of laughter. This extravagance appeared to backfire when he dropped a crucial catch in the West Indies second innings as the West Indies fought back from a 180-run deficit. He redeemed himself with the crucial wicket of Lara and 4/102 from 32.5 overs. He also averaged a useful 26 with the bat.

Miller’s efforts took him to India, though he only played the third Test at Chennai as Shane Warne resumed the frontline spinners mantle. Miller toiled in India’s first innings 501 (46 overs for 3/180) and took 3/41 in the second innings as India scrambled to a two-wicket win.

While Miller was part of the 2001 Ashes squad, he didn’t play a Test as Warne resumed his dominance. Miller returned to Victoria for the 2001/02 season before retiring in 2002.

Now living in Las Vegas (quite appropriate for such a colourful character), he was appointed ambassador for USACA (United States of America Cricket Association) in 2013.

It’s unlikely we’ll see a player like Miller again. He was a late bloomer, a multi-skilled bowler and had an interesting range of hairstyles. While he may have resembled an embarrassing uncle going through a mid-life crisis, he did a wonderful job for Australian cricket.

Watto’s honour

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Ipswich is set to honour hometown boy Shane Watson with a special mural.

The mural – to be displayed in the Ipswich CBD – will feature four special images of Watto.

The first is Watson getting out LBW.
The second is Watson referring to DRS.
The third is a disappointed Watson walking to the dressing room.
The fourth is Watson clutching his hamstring after another injury.

Local artist Peter Mathers said the ambitious mural shows the highlights of Watson’s career.

‘I surveyed cricket fans and asked them what their favourite Watto moments were. These four were the most popular. Most sports stars get a measly statue outside a stadium, but Watto’s career can’t be summed up in one image. Hopefully when people think of Watto, they’ll think of the mural.’

Watson is flattered by the honour. ‘It’s wonderful that I’ve finally been given the recognition I deserve. I made four wonderful Test centuries, so hopefully they will be recognised. I can’t wait to see it.’